Okay, I haven’t seen The Help, which hit theaters yesterday and web banners way before that, nor have I read the book by Kathryn Stockett it’s based on. But based on the critical reviews it’s gotten, even prior to the film release, I don’t think I’ll be checking out either. Here’s why…
1. The Help is about two black domestic workers (Aibileen and Minny, played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, respectively, in the film) and a young white woman (Skeeter, played by Emma Stone in the film) living and working in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Skeeter, an aspiring writer, decides to write a book about the lives of black domestic worker and begins interviewing Aibileen and Minny in the midst of class and racial tension (very shortened version! Again, I haven’t read it). There are a bunch of issues at play here, and the interwebs have documented what’s problematic, condescending, and inaccurate about a white woman taking the liberty of telling a black woman’s story (“The Help: A Feel-Good Movie for White People” by Valerie Boyd, via AfroLez), and the damaging effects of centering white people when re-writing the Civil Rights movement (“The Truth About the Civil Rights Era” by Martha Southgate, via Colorlines). For more reading, you can browse this entire website devoted to sharing critical responses of the franchise.
2. There are plenty of other fictional and non-fictional accounts of black domestic workers written by black women. At the Ms. blog, Jennifer Williams include several suggestions in her response to The Help. In addition, the Association of Black Women Historians have also included a short list of recommended reads at the end of their recently released statement (links to PDF) that takes the film and book to task for whitewashing the 1960s.
Why aren’t you seeing The Help? If you did see it, what did you think?